The benefits of gentle police work

Inequality, poverty, corruption – Nicaragua has many of the characteristic problems that afflict Central American nations. Yet there is one way in which it stands out from its neighbours: its relative lack of violence. Its homicide rate, according to the latest regional report from InSight Crime, is a mere seven per 100,000. This compares with 12.1 per 100,000 in the much richer Costa Rica, 42.8 per 100,000 in Honduras and a “staggering” 60 per 100,000 in El Salvador.

Why this disparity? In large part it’s a legacy of Nicaragua’s 1970s Sandinista revolution against the US-backed General Somoza dictatorship, and the nation’s subsequent rejection of all things American. Whereas its neighbours, under US pressure, implemented very heavy-handed policing methods in the early 1990s (former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani secured lucrative consultancy contracts), Nicaragua pursued community-based policing, with officers working closely with NGOs to prevent crime. The model was in keeping with the ideals of the revolution, which championed social programmes and progressive ideas such as gender equality. It’s this approach that has enabled Nicaragua to defy “the near-universal correlation between poverty, inequality and violence”. (Roberto Lovato, The Nation, New York, 17 Feb 2018).

Contrast the above with the trigger-happy behaviour of many American policemen, frightened to death, poorly trained, and many of them none too keen on teenage blacks. Republicans always reach for over-reach when contemplating crime. Huge numbers are arrested on specious grounds for “loitering” or holding something in their hands. Huge numbers are incarcerated, ensuring that previously harmless young people become hardened criminals. This is not the way to battle crime and not the way to to get the help and cooperation of local communities. What it does do is get votes from fearful Republican voters, whose fearfulness. is stoked up, often with bogus crime figures. With the posxible exception of Chicago, crime is gradually going down, believe it or not. No thanks to the hordes of John Waynes in policemen’s costumes.

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